zanzjan: (manuscript)
[personal profile] zanzjan
This replaces my earlier post about this. Much of the text is the same. However, I had both bad information and missing information that I think is important enough to restart this discussion cleanly. Also, I want to be clear from the very beginning that what I want from this is not to foster recrimination or dwell on my own aggravation, but to look proactively at ways to make this situation better throughout con-going fandom.

---
So let's talk about this.

First, I know that a lot of SFF fans choose not to have kids. I respect that. I'm all for people who don't want kids not having them. I don't believe children are necessary to having a fulfilling and meaningful life, nor do I hold anything against people who just want to remain kids themselves for as much of their lives as they can. I mean, I'm a lifelong SFF fan, I totally get that.

Conversely, some of us made the choice *to* have children, and that should be just as respected.

Now, as fans-with-kids, we like to go to conventions just as much as the fans-without-kids. Maybe even more, because when you have kids getting out and seeing people socially and doing things that are about your own energies and interests and self-identities can be a lot harder, and also a lot more necessary to one's well-being.

Going to conventions with kids can be tricky. Running a convention with kids doesn't have to be.

Yeah, having a kid program at a convention takes resources. It also takes a certain mindfulness about the ways in which children and security and responsibility and fun all intersect. Kids have different developmental levels, different needs, different independences. For the purposes of this post, I'm going to loosely divide them up into three groups: baby/toddler, young fan-kid, and older fan-kid.

Baby/Toddler, aka childcare
Babysitting/childcare for baby/toddler-age kids is the most resource-intensive group to provide for. You need people who genuinely know what they're doing to be in charge of this, if you're going to do it. A lot of conventions don't or can't handle this age group. It's really, really nice when they do. It's also not unexpected when they don't.

Young Kid/Older Kid, aka kid programming:
For small conventions, having a kid program may legitimately be beyond the scope of what they can offer. Readercon is a good example of this. It's just not a kid-enabled convention, and they're right up front about that from the get-go. This is, incidentally, why every year I only go to Readercon for the day on Saturday; I love the con, but that's my window for getting someone to watch my kids for me.

For mid-size conventions, maybe it's not so clear. Have a kid program or don't have a kid program, but either way, be clear about what you're providing, and don't half-ass it.

Assume from this point forward I'm talking about the larger conventions.

For large conventions, especially, say, the World Science Fiction Convention, there is absolutely no excuse for not having good kid programming, and having detailed information about exactly what you're providing available EARLY in the planning process. (IMO, kid programming info ought to be included as part of the bid proposal for a Worldcon.) When there is insufficient information and communication until after parents are already financially committed to going, it can be disastrous. This is the situation I find myself in with the current Worldcon, although I am becoming convinced that the vast majority of issues -- if not all of them -- sit squarely on concom heads, and that the kid programming people have been just as much a victim of the disorganization and poor commmunication that has plagued many other aspects of this con. I'm not there, I don't know, I don't want to get in anyone's face about it, but I don't want this to happen again. As a parent, when a convention says they're going to have a kid program, you assume certain things about it. And you should be able to assume certain things about it.

So let's talk about what kid programming needs to be.

Kid Programming is for kids who don't need constant, individual supervision. This can include younger kids who maybe need some direction on crafts or short attention-span activities. It can include older kids who are entirely self-entertaining. What parents need is for kid programming to be a safe space where their kids can enjoy convention activities tailored to them while the parents go off to activities of their own.

Hours:
It needs to cover a reasonable number of hours of the day so parents can go to other convention program items, especially large events such as the masquerade, Hugo awards, etc. If the kid program has breaks, it should try to have reasonably large blocks of time between them, so that parents don't spend their entire free time walking back and forth to pick up/drop off their kids. It should be mindful of how regular programming is blocked out on the schedule, so that parents can get to kid programming on time without having to leave a panel early.

Food:
Having the kid programming shut down for an hour at lunch and dinner so parents can pick up their kids and go feed them is totally understandable. With all the food allergies and dietary weirdnesses out there, it's reasonable for kid programs to NOT want to be responsible for feeding the participants. (And while I certainly wouldn't like to suppose that a few fen might forget to feed their little darlings if they didn't have to pick them up anyway, best not to test that, right?)

Security:
This is where the young-fan/older-fan distinction becomes important. By default, kids should not be able to leave kid programming space without being picked up by an authorized adult unless the parents have given the kid program permission to let the kid roam. This is not hard to do: a flag/ribbon on a kid's badge declaring them free-roaming, and one gopher at the door checking badges is sufficient. The idea that only "babysitting" should have to check where their kids are and who they are leaving with is grossly negligent of the realities of being responsible for children. Unless you're going to set the minimum age for your program in the teens, you're failing the community if you do not have door security.

Why?
So, why have a kid program at all, then?

Here's why: kids are YOUR FUTURE. Even when they're not your kids. They're the future fans, the future scientists, future writers and artists and inventors, future interesting people. Many of them are those things RIGHT NOW. There is an enormous blind-spot in the vision of some parts of fandom that don't want to give respect to or value elements of fandom they deem less worthy than the cult of books*: cosplay, anime, media SF, those danged superhero comic books, etc. And they don't want to see kids, or hear kids, or deal with kids. And they have conventions where they have panels with titles like "Where is the next generation of fans?" or "Why aren't we attracting younger fans?" and you'd laugh except its a lot like people at sea throwing themselves overboard in order to seriously discuss why don't we have a boat?

The larger conventions that are welcoming to fan families in my experience are also the ones that have better diversity in their membership all around. They also have a vitality and an energy that is painfully absent from the ones that don't. And a Worldcon should aspire toward being the best it can be for all fans, or it does not deserve the privilege of hosting such a gathering. And for the love of all that is skiffy, if you're not going to step up and do it right, don't tell people you're going to, or talk like it doesn't matter or is inconsequential or an annoyance. Lots of conventions get this right, and do so with joy and wonder and enthusiasm. It's not complicated. It needs to be a priority.

So, what do we do?
I would like to see a standards document produced in consultation w/ fan parents and also people who have experience with running convention kid programming. I would like to see it outline best practices, provide a framework for conventions about how to implement a good and sustainable kid program, and how to communicate about it to fan parents.

I have put up a webpage (Futurefen) with the intent of collecting information about current conventions' kid programs so that that info is centrally available. It seems like a good first step, and I'm happy for any and all info people want to send my way.Eventually it'd be nice to add more info for parents about doing cons w/ kids, and info as well from experienced kid-program runners on what makes a program workable and sustainable and good from their perspectives. It seems a better use of energy.
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